Speaking Up – Advocacy Isn’t a Dirty Word

Late in the day yesterday, a continuing resolution was passed extending funding for the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program for four more months. As you might guess from the number of CRs, this turn of events is not a surprise to many but there is a significant desire from small businesses that participate in this program to pass a bill that maintains the integrity of the 20 year old program. (Note: the SBIR program is a set aside of a small percentage (2.5%) of most federal agency budgets that is allocated to small businesses through competitive grant/contract processes. The National Academies have given a positive review of these programs to Congress.)

During my time at Quintessence, I have seen first hand that state and federal government play a big role in business. From the impact of patent law on the value of our intellectual property to the regulations the FDA uses as we bring a new cancer drug closer to market. I was fortunate to have the opportunity early during this revelation to meet with some of the federal legislators from Wisconsin. We talked about how Quintessence was funded, what kind of people we employ and what the future looks like for biotech companies. We also discussed how biotech companies interact with other stakeholders they hear from, such as the universities.

I think the legislators and their staff enjoy meeting people who run businesses and hearing our issues first hand. We have been able to arrange site visits for them to similar companies, generally in their districts. These visits allow the legislators to learn more about how biotech business fits in the lives of their constituents. As you might expect, many of the visits the legislators get are from professional advocates (aka lobbyists) who have dedicated time to focus on these meetings. I am all for professional help, but consider the power of a story. White papers provide great data but the stories that come from a legislator’s district can help bring the data to life.

If you look up advocacy, you will see that one of the suggested synonyms is promotion. I prefer to think of advocacy as the responsibility that I have as a constituent, in this case a constituent running a small biotech business, to inform state and federal government about the impact that legislation has on my business. Legislation impacts not just the business and its investors but also our employees and the patients who could someday be helped by our cancer drug. I have come to decide that advocacy isn’t a dirty word, as long as I have the flexibility to modify the definition.

If you are still interested…

With so much “real” work to do, how can you keep on top of issues relevant to a biotech small business? Here are some suggestions on where to look for white papers and background information on industry and/or growth specific legislative issues. I limited this round primarily to trade associations and advocacy groups. Keep in mind that while these organizations provide great information each has their own leanings and finding two sources with somewhat different positions can be helpful. I will follow up soon with some of the blogs that provide good takes on the main issues.

If you want to contact your legislators, you can find your information here. A good first step is to arrange a meeting with the local staff who generally are dedicated to working with constituents. The staff in Washington tends to be divided up by policy issues (e.g. health, legal, etc.) and often get pulled in to discuss a specific legislative issue. The staffers are a great resource and in my experience can help gauge when a meeting with your legislator would be most impactful.



  1. What do I know about GETTING a job? | The Next Element - September 6, 2011

    […] networking extensively during my transition (writing a business plan) and I continue to do it now (advocating for small business). Or your goal may be to find a new career opportunity. One thing that quickly became apparent […]

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